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Daphne and Apollo

“O foolish Cupid,” fair Apollo mocked.
“To think that you, a wanton boy, should dare
To think yourself the equal to a man
Of arms, or even to a god like me,
In putting arrows full into the mark
Of warring foes or targets made of straw.

Your skill is like unto a man born blind
Or as an ox with hooves instead of hands.
So lay aside your arrows and your bow
And seek some other way to ply your craft;
By throwing stones, perhaps, or better yet,
By blowing sloppy kisses all about.”

With words like these the son of Zeus amused
Himself at the expense of Venus’ son.
But as for Cupid, he was not amused
But plotted vengeance in his impish mind
So as to break the smug Apollo’s heart
And make him eat his bitter, scornful words.

With practiced skill beyond his mocker’s ken
A gold-tipped arrow fitted to his bow
Was sent aloft until, unseen, unfelt,
It struck Apollo and released a curse
That filled him with a passionate desire
To claim the naiad, Daphne as his own.

Then Cupid sent a second, lead-tipped dart
That struck the unsuspecting naiad true,
And placed within her tender, youthful heart
An irresistible desire to flee
The god who sought to seek, pursue, despoil,
And conquer her as he was wont to do.

By strength of will, by cunning, stealth and wit
Did Daphne give the lusting god the slip.
Until, at last, his prize within his grasp,
The god, with strength far greater than her own,
Subdued, embraced, and pulled her to himself
To claim his hard-won trophy with a kiss.

“O, Peneus, my father!” Daphne cried.
“Deliver me from foul Apollo’s arms
And rescue me from his unwanted kiss.”
The river god responded with a spell
That turned her fingers into twigs and leaves,
And all the rest into a laurel tree.

Apollo grieved his loss, embraced the tree,
And felt her heart yet beating deep within.
“So shall I honor her whose tender leaves
Shall henceforth be both loved and prized by all.
A wreath made from her leaves shall be a crown
And great men by their laurels shall be known.”

previously published at The Chained Muse

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James A. Tweedie is a retired pastor living in Long Beach, Washington. He has written and published six novels, one collection of short stories, and three collections of poetry including Mostly Sonnets, all with Dunecrest Press. His poems have been published nationally and internationally in The Lyric, Poetry Salzburg (Austria) Review, California Quarterly, Asses of Parnassus, Lighten Up Online, Better than Starbucks, WestWard Quarterly, Society of Classical Poets, and The Chained Muse.


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18 Responses

    • James A. Tweedie

      Thank you, Allegra, although I am not convinced that the story itself is particularly beautiful or tender. If anything beautiful or tender comes from this poem (or more precisely, from Ovid’s telling of the story) it most certainly must be Bernini’s statue by the same name. I have seen the statue up close and personal in the Borghese Gallery in Rome, and I do not hesitate to rank it toward the top of my top-ten list of the world’s greatest statues (still in existence).

      Reply
  1. Margaret Coats

    James, this is a perky recounting of the classic story–with an important point. Laurels, as a long-acknowledged prize for success, derive their honored place in culture from successful resistance to overbearing interference. There is a sad cost to Daphne who became a tree, but she gained her most important objective. And we do not remember the names of any other love of Apollo’s. The god of poetry cuts a poor figure here, but at least we can credit him with fidelity in failure.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Thanks, Margaret. I like your use of the word “perky” since the opening stanzas were intentionally written in a light style to reflect the mocking tone of Apollo’s words. It is, I think, less perky further on! Dr. S (see below) manages to find a moral in the story–one that I have yet to discover–unless it is to be reminded that it is not a good idea to mock a god . . . even if you are a god yourself!

      Reply
  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    This is a nice retelling of the Daphne myth, and the language used is very reminiscent of Ovid’s style. One minor suggestion — in the fourth sestet, leave out the comma after /naiad/ in the last line. It spoils the flow.

    We do know some of Apollo’s other loves (the Cumaean Sibyl, the Trojan priestess Cassandra, Marpessa, the nymph Cyrene). All of these relationships — just like that with Daphne — except the last ended badly and sexlessly, simply because Apollo’s basic character is so cold, distant, and unresponsive that women are turned off by him. despite his good looks. He lacks warmth, romantic initiative, tenderness, and the ability to sweet-talk a lady.

    This is why the Daphne myth is interesting and surprising — Apollo becomes a wild pursuer and a would-be rapist, which is totally out of character for him. But it could only be brought about by the action of another god (the impish and provocative Cupid). The irony is that when Apollo finally receives the go-getter energy from Cupid to pursue a girl, she turns out to be an off-limits virgin.

    The moral? Even among the gods, some guys just naturally strike out.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Thanks for the compliment and background info.

      As for the comma, I hate them. I always have. I never know what to do with them. When I follow the style manuals (such as always putting them at the end of an opening preposition unless it is three or less words long), they rarely “read” well. Sometimes, instead of commas, I have taken to using dashes, ellipses, or parentheses simply in order to avoid them.

      I’m beginning to think that maybe ee cummings had the same problem and took his solution to the extreme:

      “i carry your heart with me”

      i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
      my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
      i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
      by only me is your doing, my darling)
      i fear
      no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
      no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
      and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
      and whatever a sun will always sing is you

      here is the deepest secret nobody knows
      (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
      and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
      higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
      and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

      i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

      Reply
      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Commas are generally avoided if you are using a one-word apposition in a short sentence. Example:

        “We executed the criminal Smith for his heinous crimes.”

        There’s no need to set off /Smith/ with commas although it is appositional to /criminal/.

      • C.B. Anderson

        Sometimes commas are necessary (or at least formally required), but it’s a good thing to omit unnecessary commas. At other times a comma may be used to effect a caesura or to clarify the intended phrasing of a complicated sentence. Used judiciously, commas are an ally of the careful, accurate writer.

  3. James A. Tweedie

    Now if I could only find a way to work “judicious,” “heinous,” and “caesura” into the same sentence . . .

    Oh . . .

    I just did . . .

    And the commas did their part as friends and allies!

    I think I feel less hateful towards the little squirmy worms already . . .

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Well, that’s a good sign. As a fly-fisherman, I suppose, you might never have stuck a worm on a hook, which is not a pretty business. I’ll take trout any way I can get them.

      Reply
      • James A. Tweedie

        C.B. If you revisit my recent Prince Albert in a Can submission you will see where I used the can to carry the wet dirt and worms I dug up to use for stream fishing. I do indeed know how to bait a hook and have caught many a fish that way. But you can’t release a small fragile fish caught with bait since removing a swallowed hook does too much damage to the fish. This adds yet another point in favor of using artificial flies.

  4. Margaret Coats

    I am starting a new box to avoid the comma discussion and return to Apollo’s loves. Yes, we know there were some, but without a triumphantly successful mnemonic like the laurel, how do we remember them or their names? With difficulty, if at all. If we look at a database listing Apollo’s children, there are fifty or more, and some scholar can provide a name for the mother of most of them. What is most interesting about this information, however, is that for many of the reputed offspring, another possible name is given for the father. What happened? Was the good-looking god just wishful thinking on the part of some women? Or perhaps the stories of certain families or cities demanded some distinction from a supposed Olympian ancestor. I suggest that this circumstance supports Joseph Salemi’s moral to the story, “Even among the gods, some guys just naturally strike out.” Apollo may have shown some slight interest in numerous females, but in many cases did not continue the “love” even long enough to father a child. But isn’t it fascinating to suppose that the child (whoever the actual father) might have been Apollo’s? From my point of view, the woman Apollo loved most was his sister Artemis. She was an ideal few women or even nymphs could have equaled in coolness. No wonder that when Apollo meets Daphne, she becomes a genuine object of desire even without the help of Cupid’s arrow. When Apollo (or Ovid on his behalf) faithfully adopts the laurel as his attribute, Daphne develops into the aloof god’s ever desired but never attainable love–the only one generally remembered.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      There is at least one other good mnemonic for one of Apollo’s ill-fated loves: the priestess Cassandra. She reneged on her promise to sleep with him after he gave her the gift of prophecy. Apollo begged for at least one kiss, and when she approached to give him one, the god spat directly into her open mouth. As a result, Cassandra did have the gift of prophecy, but Apollo said “Now no one will ever believe your predictions.” And this is shown every time Cassandra appears in a classical text: she predicts truly, but everyone disregards her.

      Apollo did love his sister Artemis, but she too was a sworn virgin, and hence unavailable for any games.

      Reply
  5. C.B. Anderson

    It’s peculiar how Apollo seems to have taken on Dionysian attributes in this discussion. Is no god safe from defamation anymore?

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      C.B. I am not a expert on the subject but my meager research seems to show that Apollo is somewhat of a man for all seasons, a man who can be sentimental following an attempted rape of a fleeing naiad, comic relief in attempting to milk a male goat while being distracted in his attempt to seduce a male goatherd/shepherd as his lover, a meddler in the Iliad, siding with Troy and causing mischief by adding to the unfolding tragedy but ultimately failing to save Troy, a wrathful avenger who savagely slaughtered the children of a woman who audaciously claimed to be more fertile than Apollo’s mother, Leto. He is the master the bow, the lusting suitor of nearly every one of the Muses, the unwed and supposed father of a dozen children, the master of music and the lyre who defeats Pan hands down in a performance competition and, of course, the one who moves the sun across the sky.

      Since there is, apart from Zeus, no other male god to fill all the parts, Apollo seems to have evolved into a character adaptable to play whatever part was needed in any given mythological tale. This makes him larger than life, of course (which is what one would expect from a god) but as a result, Apollo becomes such a complex, self-contradictory, completely muddled caricature of everything and anything that he ends up with no consistently identifiable personality at all.

      Harlem named a theater after him.

      Yet another attribute that makes no sense at all.

      And there is, of course, the NASA space program that put men on the moon–a project that should have been named after Diana or Artemis instead of Apollo–another attribution that makes no sense.

      Just like the god, himself.

      Reply
      • Joseph S. Salemi

        It’s certainly true that Apollo is a god of many different aspects. He is a god of reason, intelligence, high cultural achievement, prophecy, self-control, medicine and disease, arts and crafts, civilization, triumphant accomplishment in all fields of endeavor, sunlight, and the pitiless destruction of all that is inferior or ugly. But it is a mistake to say that he has no consistent character or personality. In fact, he is a more important god in Greek culture than Zeus himself.

        What unites all of these various aspects? Easy: Apollo is the god of Hellenic culture itself, and of all that this culture values. When a Greek aspired to be “kalos kai agathos” (the best that was possible for a man to be), he was aspiring to live up to the image of perfection that Apollo represented. Reason, order, cool intelligence, self-control, achievement, and the extermination of what is inferior, base, inadequate, and filthy — that’s the Apollonian ideal. This is why he is traditionally contrasted with Dionysus, the god of drunkenness, disorder, partying, and wild enthusiasms.

        The downside to all this is that Apollo is very cold, restrained, unemotional, overly intellectual, and often lacking in the joie de vivre we associate with friendly human relationships. This is also why he frequently strikes out with females (both divine and human).

        NASA named its space program after Apollo precisely because of the intense intellectual and technical effort that went into the program’s success — the careful thinking, the profound analysis, the precise measurement, and the fanatical attempt to exclude all error and miscalculation and guesswork, and of course the intense desire for HIGH ACHIEVEMENT. The space program was purely Apollonian — the mind of European culture rising upwards to the stars, through sheer intellectual force and drive.

        Artemis? No way. She represents a darker and more primitive side of life: forests, hunting, wild animals, the moon, and even witchcraft. That stuff won’t get you into space.

  6. James A. Tweedie

    Dr. S. I fully agree with your representation of Apollo as representing Greek culture as an ideal. But, as C.B. mentions in his comment, Apollo in mythology, does not always live up to his own ideal when he is represented as being deceitful, capricious, disproportionately wrathful, and impulsive.

    I do not intend this as criticism, for I would find him tremendously boring and two-dimensional if he were, indeed “perfectly” “Apollonian.”

    With his unpredictable predilection towards taking sides and meddling in human affairs (with Homer’s depiction being definitive) he may be constant and reliable at his core, but significantly flawed and frayed around the edges.

    I believe his popularity and association with so much that is central to Greek culture is directly related to how his testosterone-driven masculinity symbolizes and reflects the Greek ideal of manhood and, of course, vice versa! And this to a degree that leaves Zeus, Ares, Pluto, Hades, Hermes, Dionysus and the rest of the male deities in the dust.

    Apollo’s failure to prevent Troy’s defeat notwithstanding, he would be (if I were an ancient Greek engaged in war) someone I would want to have on my side. But as far as being a friend or a lover, I would prefer that he kept to his day job pulling the sun through the sky and keeping as far away from me as possible.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      ALL the Greek gods meddle in human affairs. They’re worse than Yahweh in the Old Testament.

      Reply

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